Sam Turner, descendent of Clinton 12, recognized for his service to Food City

Former Clinton Food City Manager Sam Turner speaks with Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank during Turner’s retirement party last Friday at the Clinton Community Center. (photo:G. Chambers Williams III )
Longtime Clinton Food City manager Sam Turner, whose grandmother filed the lawsuit against the state of Tennessee that resulted in the tumultuous 1956 desegregation of Clinton High School, was honored Friday during a party celebrating his retirement from the store.

During the retirement party at the Clinton Community Center, Turner told about how his parents relocated to Los Angeles while he was still in his mother’s womb because they were afraid to raise their children in Clinton.

“My grandmother sued the state of Tennessee for the right for her kids to go to the high school,” Turner told the group of about 75 people on hand for the retirement party. He was referring to the McSwain family of Clinton, which included Turner’s aunt, Alvah McSwain, one of the Clinton 12.

“From that situation, they put a bomb in a trashcan in front of my grandparents’ home,” Turner said. “Luckily, a neighbor saw it being placed there. They were able to get the police involved, and they came and defused it.

“My dad at the time had just got out of the military, so he made his mind up that he wasn’t going to raise us here. Mom, with me in tow in the belly, went to California. So I was born in L.A. But I came back here in ’66 on a family vacation and I fell in love with the place.”

Surprisingly, though, Turner said he never knew the family history of involvement in the turbulent integration of Clinton High and the circumstances around it until after he became manager of Food City. His parents had never told him about it, he said.

On Friday, Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank presented a plaque to Turner that held a resolution passed by the County Commission recognizing June 28 as “Sam Turner Day” in Anderson County.

She said Turner is a longtime friend of hers, and that she had gotten to know him well when she and her husband were running a food business in Clinton. The Franks live right across South Charles G. Seivers Boulevard from the Food City store.

“I love Sam Turner,” she told the crowd. “He’s been a great friend to the community.”

Top regional Food City executives attended the party and praised Turner for his longtime commitment to the company and the community.

“Throughout your tenure, you’ve been more than a manager; you’ve been a beacon of service and a source of inspiration for everyone around you,” said Katie Perry Food City executive vice president for the Knoxville region. She also presented a plaque to Turner.

“Your contributions have not only shaped the success of our store, but left an incredible mark on the lives and careers of countless associates, including many current store managers who have benefited from your mentorship and guidance,” she said.

Turner told the crowd that he wanted to dispel any rumors about his departure from Food City, saying that he retired so he could help his sister take care of their elderly parents in Los Angeles, who are in poor health.

He said that since his 87-year-old mother became ill in May, he has been alternating with his sister in spending two weeks at a time taking care of her and his 89-year-old father, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease.

The decision to retire “was a difficult choice,” Turner said. “Food City is my family.”

He said that he and his wife of 25 years, Angel, have no plans to move away from Clinton.

John Jones, Food City’s executive vice president for store operations, praised Turner from the podium at the party, and told him that he was welcome to come back to work at Food City “anytime you want to.”

A sign posted in the store after Turner’s retirement sought cards for him from customers and friends, and noted that Clinton Food City was saying “goodbye after 24 years under Sam.”

During his tenure, Turner served in a variety of roles at the store, at 507 S. Charles G. Seivers Blvd., starting as a night stock manager and working his way up to store manager.

He is well-known in the community both as the Food City manager and for his work in various local charities.

Most recently, he oversaw a major remodeling and reconfiguring of Food City’s interior, beginning in June 2022, that resulted in the opening of an in-store Starbucks kiosk in mid-2023 that added 15 jobs to the store.

That remodeling also included adding a sushi bar; new cases and coolers, stove, and ovens in the bakery/deli; a new décor package; and general painting and updating of the rest of the interior.

Additionally, Food City expanded its health and beauty-care product displays into the area formerly occupied by the in-store bank branch, which closed in early 2022.

In a letter to the store’s employees and the Clinton community, Abingdon, Virginia-based Food City President/CEO Steven C. Smith praised Turner.

“We would like to thank Sam Turner for his dedicated service to our company,” Smith wrote.

“We’ve enjoyed a great relationship for more than 23 years, during which Sam has served in a number of key roles, including night stock manager, assistant manager trainee, assistant store manager, grocery supervisor, and store manager.

“He has also been very active within his local community, working to help make Clinton and Anderson County a better place to live, work, and educate your children.”